Opportunities come with crisis
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-09-07

Congratulations are in order for some people for what they did in the aftermath of the Luneta Hostage Tragedy.

Foremost of them is President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) for accepting command responsibility for the Luneta Hostage Tragedy — specifically the bungling of the attempted hostage rescue. P-Noy lived up to the hallmark of his presidency which is that of leadership by example.

It takes greatness in a big man to be able to humble himself. Too often we have seen in our past presidents the tendency to use the power of their office to be shielded from accountability and embarrassment.

The accounts of those who were questioned during the Multi-Agency Hearing headed by the Department of Justice on the Luneta Hostage Tragedy proved that P-Noy was actively following the developments at the Luneta Quirino Grandstand and was coordinating with the officials handling the crisis. He was on top of the situation every step of the way like a good chief executive.

The hearing also established that it was against best practices in hostage crisis handling for high government officials, especially a head of State, to be physically present and visible during a hostage crisis mainly because it will merely embolden the hostage taker and raise his morale. This would negate the objective of wearing down the hostage taker and condition him to surrender.

A president’s presence in a hostage taking scene will telegraph to the hostage taker that there are less chances of being assaulted as this would also pose a security risk to the president. A president’s presence will also suggest to the hostage taker that he is winning to get such attention and this in turn will reinforce his resolve and may even prod him to increase his demands.

Congratulations are also in order for Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma and DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) Undersecretary for Public Safety and Order Rico E. Puno for announcing that they are ready to lose their positions if that is so warranted. Oddly, both of them did their jobs and should have the least accountability for the mishandling of the assault.

In the case of Secretary Coloma, whose task in the Communications Department is Dissemination, he was the least accountable for the sub-standard flow of communications during and after the hostage crisis. It was Communications Group Messaging Secretary Ricky Carandang who was terribly wanting.

Offhand, the following shortcomings of Carandang come to mind:

1. The “Where was P-Noy?” issue was raised on the day after the hostage incident and Carandang failed to immediately quash this mistaken notion. It took a full week for Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda to disclose on ANC Talkback what P-Noy was doing during the crisis. That time gap is unacceptable. This issue could have been easily dispelled on the day when it surfaced by narrating the president’s hour by hour activities during the crisis.

2. The issue of Hong Kong Administrator Donald Tsang’s call to P-Noy was not properly addressed and it made the president look like he was not in charge. Carandang did not even cite that the call to P-Noy was a violation of protocol and therefore we have nothing to be defensive about for not taking it.

3. The issue of draping the flag on the casket of the hostage taker was not immediately and properly addressed — thereby adding to the bad impression which reflected on the president. The Messaging Secretary should have immediately clarified that this was neither inspired nor committed by the government and that people here freely place the flag on the caskets of those who have been public servants.

4. Again, the issue which was raised by the Journalist Association of Hong Kong that P-Noy should not blame the media for the bungled rescue was not immediately and properly addressed. Clearly, P-Noy merely cited media for having added to the problems but never did he attempt to put the blame solely on media. Carandang should have taken the Hong Kong journalists to task for raising a falsely premised issue.

The hostage crisis may have been a big setback for the P-Noy administration in terms of prestige and public confidence but it can also deliver some windfall. With every crisis also come opportunities. This being an unforeseen event which is an obvious isolated case — one that could happen anywhere in the world — it is emotional in nature and shall eventually fade from public memory. The credible conduct of the hearing last Friday and Saturday may have already accomplished closure.

The big lessons to be learned though from this crisis are invaluable for P-Noy and will serve him in good steed during future, more serious crises. This crisis had shown to P-Noy who among his appointees can really do their job and be relied upon during perilous moments. Amidst the finger pointing and buck passing — P-Noy discovered from this crisis the few good men around him who will take a bullet for him.

This crisis should alert P-Noy to the reality that during big missions in life it is wise to select only those whose loyalties are solely yours and that for big missions in life one should never pick up stray dogs.

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  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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